Malice, Heather Walter – Book Review

Hello Humans! Long time readers will know I am a sucker for a fairytale retelling. Bonus points if it focusses on the villain. Bonus bonus points if it promises to be LGBT+. So you can imagine how excited I was to pick up Malice which sounded like it could be all three!

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A princess isn’t supposed to fall for an evil sorceress. But in this darkly magical retelling of “Sleeping Beauty,” true love is more than a simple fairy tale.

Once upon a time, there was a wicked fairy who, in an act of vengeance, cursed a line of princesses to die. A curse that could only be broken by true love’s kiss.

You’ve heard this before, haven’t you? The handsome prince. The happily-ever-after.

Utter nonsense.

Let me tell you, no one in Briar actually cares about what happens to its princesses. Not the way they care about their jewels and elaborate parties and charm-granting elixirs. I thought I didn’t care, either.

Until I met her.

Princess Aurora. The last heir to Briar’s throne. Kind. Gracious. The future queen her realm needs. One who isn’t bothered that I am Alyce, the Dark Grace, abhorred and feared for the mysterious dark magic that runs in my veins. Humiliated and shamed by the same nobles who pay me to bottle hexes and then brand me a monster. Aurora says I should be proud of my gifts. That she . . . cares for me. Even though it was a power like mine that was responsible for her curse.

But with less than a year until that curse will kill her, any future I might see with Aurora is swiftly disintegrating—and she can’t stand to kiss yet another insipid prince. I want to help her. If my power began her curse, perhaps it’s what can lift it. Perhaps, together, we could forge a new world.

Nonsense again.

Because we all know how this story ends, don’t we? Aurora is the beautiful princess. And I—

I am the villain.

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I won’t lie to you – I had a fun time reading this book. I’m not suggesting this is a laugh a minute sweet little romance – cause that would be very misleading – but it is the kind of story that sort of just swept me up for an entertaining few hours of reading. I was surprised by how much of a good time I had reading this, just because I have a tendency to be a bit cynical about YA retellings and this one does have some cheesy elements.

I think the saving grace (pun intended) is that Alyce is a great main character. Too often in stories that attempt to repaint the villain they either get the ‘it was never anything to do with me’ or the ‘I am genuinely a terrible person but let’s pretend otherwise’ edit. In this case I liked that the book does both, we get the sense that Alyce is being misused and misled for sure, but equally she has her own agency to a point. She’s not villainous in a ‘mass murder’ kind of way but nor is she the innocent lamb who would never hurt a fly. Alyce would hurt a fly a little if it was being horrible to her.

I liked the story, both the elements that were new and the elements brought in from Sleeping Beauty. One thing this book does well (which is usually a hallmark of a good retelling) is holding on to that key fairytale element to use it in a moment of tension. I won’t spoil what happens in this book but it would be the equivalent of a Snow White re-imagining bringing in an apple – as a reader you know what that means even though the characters don’t and it’s almost a Chekov’s gun moment.

I also thought that that romance, while not particularly substantial, was very sweet. I wouldn’t have said this book was a revolutionary LGBT+ narrative but given the amount of non revolutionary straight romances in YA retellings I certainly think we deserve a few where it’s two women! It’s hard to call the romance without having read the sequel but I’m just begging them to not bury the gays.

My biggest qualm with this book was that it does tend to tell rather than show – particularly in the start of the book. I think this was due to the amount of worldbuilding necessary to set up the world Alyce is a part of. I would have maybe liked to find out that information in a more natural way than being outright told it by the main character which felt a little clunky. It would be interesting to see if that is still the same in the sequel or if, without the worldbuilding needed, it would feel a bit smoother. We shall see!

My rating: 4/5 stars

I received a free digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley – all opinions are my own!

Malice is out April 13th

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